The National Rugby League, or NRL, is Australasia’s premier Rugby League and is made up of professional clubs in Australia and New Zealand. Matches are played in these countries from autumn to spring every year, culminating in the NRL Grand Final that determines the premiers of the League. The winning team then goes on to represent Australasia in the World Cup Challenge, a pre-season game against Europe’s Super League champions. To really understand Rugby in Australia and New Zealand today, fans need to understand the National Rugby League of days gone by. The NRL history below is too short to really do it justice, but it is a good place to start.
The NRL history is long and detailed. The New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) was established in 1908, and began running the major Rugby League competition in that state. By 1980 there were interstate Rugby tourneys, and in that year the format of these games changed with the State of Origin series. This ultimately led to expansion of the NSWRL premiership, including the Winfield Cup, the Canberra and Illwarra clubs being included and the introduction of commercial sponsorship, and the demise of some other original Rugby League premierships. Traditional Sydney-based clubs, were forced to close down during this decade, as were the Newtown Jets and the Brisbane Rugby League. More squads were added to the NSWRL in the next few years, and there was a real call for a national competition. At this point, in 1994, control of the premiership was passed on to the Australian Rugby League (ARL) and 4 more teams from outside of New South Wales were invited to participate in the 1995 tournament.
Pay television was introduced to Australia at around the same time and News Corporation, a global media corporation, essentially created what came to be known as the Super League War. This was initially a conflict over broadcasting rights, but it grew into an argument over who actually controlled Australian Rugby and which teams would still exist in the new era of national competition. News Limited (a News Corporation holding company that was formed in 2013) created their own Super League, and the 2 tournaments vied for the same spectators and sponsorships. Many teams faced financial challenges, and after some negotiations the clubs affiliated with the ARL and those associated with the Super League were brought together in the NRL. Jointly owned by the ARL and News Limited, this was the launch of the National Rugby League and can be looked at as the beginning of NRL. After some turbulence as clubs were merged together and created new logos and brands, the League is in strong shape.
The NRL Today
More NRL history was made when the ARL and the News Corporation gave up their co-ownership to the independently formed Australian Rugby League Commission. This came after several years of preparation, with a constitutional framework agreed upon in 2010 and the new commission assuming complete control on 10 February 2012.
The 16 Leagues in today’s NRL include 15 from Australia and 1 from New Zealand. The most viewed and attended Rugby League championship in the world, it is regarded as the most elite and prestigious as well. The largest telecommunications provider in Australia, Telstra, became the premiership’s naming rights sponsor in 2001 and it has since been known as the NRL Telstra Premiership. The competition has become more popular with each successive season, and seems set to continue this trajectory.